Information Privacy Issues with People Search Websites: What can you do to protect yourself?

At one time, when you wanted to know something about someone you would use a search engine like Google or Yahoo, but that is not the case anymore.  There are hundreds of websites with your personal information listed that will provide your information to someone for a fee and some even for free.  Many people always ask, “How did my information get on this site?”, and I often state, “You put it there.”  Maybe not directly, but through various online activities such as Facebook and Twitter updates as well as signing up to purchase items online.  All of that information is eventually collected and stored in some company’s database.

There is big business in collecting and selling your information from social networking sites as many of us have read in recent months on how Facebook what to collect and share our information.  People search websites such as Spokeo.com, Intelius.com and PeopleFinder.com to name a few are among some of the sites that are out there to benefit from your collected information.  On Spokeo.com, information about you, your family, income and even religious, political affiliation and hobbies are listed.  In some cases, pictures of individual participating in activities and hobbies are available for viewing.  Detailed information such as that was very likely pulled from your Facebook and twitter account.

Many people may think the information on the people search websites are harmless, but how harmless would you consider your address, a map to your house and the number of kids living at the house when it is complied in the wrong hands.

We are at a point where we need to continuously monitor our online identity to make sure nothing we do not want displayed is available to the public.  We need to think of our digital identity like our personal credit report and periodically checking it to make sure it is fine.

Some simple recommendations are think before you post information on social networking sites, that information is searchable thus making it collectable.  When asked for your birth date when filling an online application, make sure it is for a legitimate reason, if not lie about it.  Lastly, and I know this is the toughest one, read those long privacy policies, they will tell you what the website will do with your information.

Once your information is out there, can you reclaim it?  Yes and no, some sites make it easy, all you have to do is “opt-out” or request to be deleted, while others are more difficult and may require legal action or law enforcement’s assistance.  In addition, services such as ReputationDefender.com which is one of many entities that can help individuals for a fee.  It not guaranteed all of your personal or negative information will go away but is can help.  That is why we stress, what you put online now will shape your digital legacy.  It was said information about us online would outlive us long after we are gone.

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